Five tactics from great online small businesses to use when getting started

Content by Sylvia Cochran

Storefronts are becoming optional. Small business owners who do own traditional stores frequently discover that an online presence may actually make the brick and mortar business approach superfluous. What do you need to know today about starting -- and growing -- your very own online small business? Five tips from successful online small businesses pave the way.

Provide a needed service that appeals to a niche

Case in point is DocStoc, which is a download service for more than 20 million business documents any company needs to get off the ground and operate. Could you ferret out all the information by visiting city hall? Sure! But why take this much time out of your day if you can simply download everything you need from one central source? This service is so popular that DocStoc is among the top 500 most visited websites, according to Quantcast.

Offer membership options for additional savings

DocStoc does it; premium members get a break on custom document creation, which greatly cuts down on the expense of contracting with other legal-form providers. HauteLook concurs with this business model. In fact, this Nordstrom partner greets all visitors to its site with an invitation to join up and receive designer brand discounts worth 50 percent to 75 percent.

Couple technology with a corner store business philosophy

Growers House is a provider of hydroponics supplies. While a family business storefront acts as a physical location, the website takes the business worldwide. Unlike other online entrepreneurs who promise a 24-hour turnaround on inquiries, this small business promises to reply to emails within the hour. Visitors to the site are invited to a live chat experience to ask questions or make inquiries.

Leverage industry contacts

If you have been employed in your line of business for a while, or if you have operated a brick and mortar storefront for an appreciable period of time, you undoubtedly have many contacts in the industry. CubeClerk owners used their three decades of furniture sales experience to offer an online shopping experience that appeals to buyers, sellers and furniture dealers. By supplying primarily the used furniture market, the online business offers to not just make the sale but also act as a go-between for buyers and dealers, thereby capitalizing on two business opportunities via one website.

Provide a targeted buying experience

Fashion in particular is overrun with websites that promise to sell the most stylish couture at rock-bottom prices. Reluctant online shoppers get easily frustrated with the sheer volume of options and frequently decide to head for a brick and mortar store instead. Capitalize on the need for a more targeted buying experience by taking a page from the playbook of ShoeDazzle. Would-be shoppers take a brief quiz about their style preferences and the software customizes an online showroom based just on this information. Each month, new merchandise is introduced, once again based on the consumer profile.

Sweeten the deals with free shipping offers, attractive sales or special offers -- and also frequent updates to the inventory -- and your online business will likely develop a loyal customer base. Of course, it does not hurt to also partner with online business support companies that help you keep a watchful eye on how the business is actually doing on a week to week or month to month basis; case in point is the Yahoo! Marketing Dashboard, which tracks your online business' reputation and traffic.

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